Vancouver restaurants look to long-weekend for much-needed boost in business

Some restaurants in Vancouver are feeling the pinch amid rising operation costs, and local eateries are banking on a boost in sales this Easter Long weekend.

As many restaurants continue to struggle to stay open, there are high hopes that the Easter long weekend could bring some much-needed relief.

According to the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, more than a dozen restaurants in Vancouver alone are set to close in March due to financial constraints.

“We’re starting to see an inordinate number of restaurants closing in Vancouver, particularly in the month of March so far. We think that we’re starting to see the effects now of accumulated debt, the problems that we had with CEBA loans in January, and just a general sort of reluctance of consumers, not to go out, but they’re not spending like they used to,” explained President and CEO Ian Tostenson.

“The big problem is that they’ve accumulated so much debt because of the pandemic, and then they had these CEBA loans that were due — and a lot of them couldn’t pay those back — and a lot of restaurants, particularly small ones, their leases are due, and they’re looking at the whole unprofitability right now of the category of the sector and saying it’s not worth it. They’re bailing, they’re just saying it’s not worth it to spend seven days a week trying to make nothing. It’s going to take time to straighten this out,” he continued, adding the situation “is hurting us.”

Many Canadian restaurants barely breaking even, report says

He notes the “high cost of everything” makes it hard to add to the bottom line.

According to Restaurants Canada, 62 per cent of establishments in the country “are operating at a loss or barely breaking even.”

It adds bankruptcies are also up, by 44 per cent, which the organization says is “the highest annual figure in a decade.”

“One of the main factors driving this difficult environment is weak sales, which are expected to persist in winter/spring of 2024. As consumers continue to curtail their discretionary spending, the foodservice sector bears the brunt. Disposable income is a critical factor influencing foodservice sales, as customers tend to dine out more frequently when they have greater financial flexibility,” Restaurants Canada explained in its February report.

“It’s a bit of a grim time for us right now. It’s going to take us a few months, if not a bit longer, to get out of it,” Tostenson added.

Matt Adolfo, owner of Bao Down in Olympic Village, says he’s definitely feeling the pinch as business isn’t what it used to be and the cost to run a restaurant in Vancouver comes with high operating costs.

“Maybe out of the seven days, only three days we see customers come in, so that’s what it has been like,” he told CityNews. “Labour and rent — rent is huge — and then you have hydro and gas, and supplies have gone up drastically.”

Adolfo says prices for food and drinks keep rising.

“A case of limes that are typically $40 were at one point $110 last week,” he said.

To make up for the decline in business, Adolfo says, he’s had to find other ways to generate revenue to keep up with the rising tide of costs on all fronts.

“Catering has been huge,” he said.

“We have been doing hot lunches for schools. It’s been helping out a lot and helping with labour issues.”

Long weekend optimism

However, there is some optimism in B.C. ahead of the long weekend.

He says improvements in the weather should lead to an early start to patio season in Vancouver, and notes some eateries and bars could see a 30 per cent increase in sales.

“We love it when people come out — rain or shine — but the good news is this weekend is going to be sunny,” he told CityNews.

“We’ve got sporting events, we’ve got a long weekend, Easter brunch — I think a lot of restaurants are actually going to be full for Easter brunch — so we’re just encouraging people to get out, spend a lot or spend a little, share something, go to happy hour … the fact that they go out and come in really makes the big difference for us and for people, too.”

With files from Angela Bower.

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